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Thursday, July 6, 2017 12:04 am

Holland’s exuberance energizes Homecoming

Tom Holland as Peter Parker.

 

“Amazing,” “astonishing” and “spectacular” are all adjectives that have been used to describe various comic book iterations of the famed web-slinger Spider-Man, and they certainly are apropos in relation to the latest big screen effort he’s in, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Having stumbled badly in the post-Sam Raimi-era with two “not quite there” efforts, Sony Pictures has handed the reins of this franchise to Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the integrated Marvel Comics movie universe, in an effort to make this seminal hero a key part of the modern superhero boom. This proves to be a smart move, as the producer is able to oversee the creation of a tone that effectively straddles the line between comic book fun and serious drama while folding the character into the already established Avengers-centric film line. For the most part, the results are positive and buoyed by two strong lead performances, but they’re brought low by a predictable ending.

As in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland is Peter Parker, a stressed, genius high school student by day and crime-fighting avenger by night. Needless to say, the kid has a full plate. Not only is he trying to juggle his studies and deal with a crush on fellow junior scholar Michelle (Zendaya), but he’s going out of his way to impress his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man, with his web-slinging exploits. He desperately wants to be made a permanent member of the Avengers, going so far as to be chastised for trying too hard. In a snit, Stark confiscates the high-tech uniform he and his associates made for Parker just when he needs it most; as a new threat, the Vulture (Michael Keaton) begins to terrorize Manhattan. As if having to bring down this new bad guy with homemade weapons isn’t bad enough, our hero must keep all of his after-hours activities on the down low, as he doesn’t want to worry his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

The story breezes along at a fast, but not too manic pace, propelled by Holland’s exuberance. Whereas Tobey Maguire was a bit too old for the part and Andrew Garfield couldn’t decide on a consistent tone, Holland brings the sort of youthful energy and irreverence the character was always supposed to have. None of it feels forced, and the fact that the kid can exchange patter with Downey Jr. and not get blown off the screen shows he’s got chops. Whether awkwardly trying to deal with his peers or taunting his nemeses with bad jokes, Holland is spot on genuine as the title hero, the best yet to don the mask.

Kudos as well to Keaton, who’s allowed to bring some complex shadings to Vulture, who has been a one-note villain in the comic book. Here, the Vulture is cast as a blue collar bad guy, a man just trying to get his slice of the American pie but is stymied at every turn, finally lashing out at those he thinks are oppressing him and his peers. Much like Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2, his actions are justified, and a bit of sympathy for him is the welcome residue of this narrative design. Downey Jr. is appropriately snarky; Tomei is fine but not given nearly enough to do. Special mention must be made of Jacob Batalon as Parker’s buddy Ned, as he provides wonderful comic relief throughout.

Unfortunately, Homecoming can’t escape the third-act woes that plague so many of these superhero epics, though it isn’t nearly as bombastic as other recent examples. Also, like its brethren, the film runs too long and would have benefitted from an editing nip and tuck. Still, Holland left me wanting more, which is not the usual reaction I have after films of this sort. As long as he can keep delivering witty quips and selfless heroics with conviction, this franchise will prove a crowd-pleaser for years to come, and is a welcome addition to the Marvel movie universe.

For a review of Despicable Me 3, go to the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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